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“Perspective”: Biologists Urge Americans to Conserve Energy

BOONE — A combination of conservation, education, and more research into alternative energies will keep the United States from having to tap into fossil fuel reserves in pristine locations like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, say two Appalachian State University biology professors.

“The greatest alternative source of energy we have is conservation,” Dr. Matthew Rowe says. “The savings that could be engendered by increasing fleet standards for automobiles and increasing energy efficiency of buildings could be immense.”

“It makes no sense to drive an SUV that gets 15 miles per gallon and at the same time argue that we need to drill in the arctic wildlife refuge so we can continue to drive a vehicle that only gets 15 miles per gallon,” adds Dr. Howard Neufeld. “If we drove cars that got 80 miles per gallon, there’d be no need to drill there.”

Neufeld and Rowe discuss long-term conservation issues on “Appalachian Perspective,” the university’s cable television show. The episode “Our Choices: Lifestyles and Environmental Consequences” begins airing April 10 and runs through mid-May. The 30-minute television program is hosted by Chancellor Francis T. Borkowski.

Neufeld and Rowe say the scientific community is very concerned about reports indicating that fossil fuels consumption, which has been linked to global warming, is growing faster than the already booming world population.

Because the United States contains 5 percent of the world’s population but emits 20-25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, Rowe says: “As the largest polluters in the world, (Americans) are morally obligated to reduce our output.”

Neufeld and Rowe also advocate greater focus on students’ “environmental literacy,” so young people can better understand how their lifestyles impact nature.

The two professors encourage more research and development into alternative energies like wind and solar power, and battery- powered cars to help reduce consumers’ dependency on limited resources like oil and natural gas.

The biologists’ research underscores their concern for the environment:

Through a grant from the National Geographic Society, Neufeld has studied ozone levels in the Great Smokies National Park and found that levels have doubled since 1992 and regularly exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards during summer months. The causes include pollution from the burning of fossil fuels and high temperatures, he says.

“There’s no sign of ozone levels going back down, and that’s a matter of concern,” he said. Neufeld says pollution in the Los Angeles area reached a point at which trees sensitive to ozone died off and were overtaken by other tree species that could withstand the high ozone. Seemingly heartier, the trees turned out to be more susceptible to fire and threatened mountain homes.

“If levels in the Smokies continue to get bad, we could see similar habitat degradation,” he says.

Rowe studies the saw-whet owl, a small creature that lives in the spruce-fir forests of the southern Appalachian mountains. As these cold-adapted forests die off due to global warming, urbanization and the spread of an insect known as the balsam wooly adelgid, the saw-whet owl and other animal life dependent on those forests may also decline, he warns.

“These forests are filled with rare and unique plants and birds and lichens and salamanders — species that are not found anywhere else in the world,” Rowe says. “Our greatest concern is global warming and urbanization.”

“Appalachian Perspective” can be seen locally on Charter Communications’ cable Channel 39 weekdays at 6 p.m. (except April 16 and 17 due to the university’s Easter Holiday) and cable Channel 2 Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. It also airs at various times on MTN and cable outlets in Winston-Salem, Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Kannapolis and Newport.

For more information, contact producer Linda Coutant at (828) 262-2342 or